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Turning red? Not so good

Flushed from drinking? Here’s why getting red-faced may not be a good thing.
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - January 8, 2010
By: Wong Wei Chen
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Turning red? Not so good

“When you turn red after drinking alcohol, that’s good!”

That’s what I used to hear my elders say, and I didn’t find the statement odd at all; after all, a ruddy complexion is commonly associated with robust health. And for a long time, I believed it, until I chanced upon an article in National Geographic which claimed the contrary.

That was many years ago, and I absolutely refuse to rummage through my junk pile of books and whatnot just to dig out that issue of the magazine. So I did the next best thing – I googled.

Here’s some information I found about why it’s really not a good sign when you get flushed after imbibing booze.

What it is and why it happens
The ruddy sheen some people get on their faces (or even bodies!) after consuming alcohol is more common among those of East Asian decent, and the phenomenon is hence also known as the Asian Flush, Asian Glow or Oriental Flush.

Contrary to what folk wisdom claims, this reaction is potentially dangerous. Usually, when a person consumes alcohol, the liquid – composed primarily of ethanol – is first converted into a substance known as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is toxic, and unless it is further converted into acetic acid, it will harm your body.

The body will usually respond by releasing a substance known as aldehyde dehydrogenase-2 (ALDH2) to break down the toxic acetaldehyde into carbon dioxide, water and fats, which are non-toxic and can be processed by the body. The carbon dioxide and water are excreted, whereas the fats are absorbed … of course.

In people who react to alcohol by getting flushed, this conversion process is hindered. Research has indicated that flushing is caused by a deficiency of the ALDH2 gene, and this deficiency obstructs the detoxification of acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde subsequently triggers a condition in the body known as erythema, which causes blood capillaries in the face, neck and shoulders to dilate, thus leading to redness.

For some reason this problem is predominant among East Asians. While this phenomenon is uncommon among people from other geographical regions, nearly 50 per cent of people of East Asian origin are susceptible to this reaction.

Besides sporting a red face, other symptoms of alcoholic flush include the following:

  • reduced blood pressure

  • dizziness and drowsiness

  • swollen face

  • headache

  • fatigue

  • abnormally high pulse rate

  • nausea

What you can do

Though anecdotal cures abound, there is, to date, no known remedy for alcoholic flush. What you can do is quite simple actually. Know your limits and drink in moderation.


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